Grapefruit

Why is it called a grapefruit?  There is no immediate resemblance between a grape and a grapefruit.  The most common theory is that it in allusion to the way the fruit grows in clusters on the tree, resembling grapes.  This is not what seems like the most likely theory to me.  Another, less popular, but my favored theory is that the name comes from its scientific moniker.  Citrus grandis translates to great citrus or great fruit.  So perhaps, the grapefruit was called the greatfruit.  This indeed would be a good name for this giant breakfast orange.  

But we all know that language is formed between the constraints of the lazy tongue and the strained ears so perhaps we started calling it grapefruit for the of ease of the tongue and the misinterpretation of the ears.  

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When it rains, it pours.

Our story today comes from the marketing department.  In the early 1900’s Morton’s added magnesium carbonate to their salt.  This prevented the little granules from sticking together so that you didn’t end up with clumps in your salt shaker.  The sweet girl with the umbrella, yep, she is advertising chemicals added to your salt.  They now use calcium silicate.  

To illustrate the point of the free-flowing salt, the marketing department came up with the saying “When it rains, it pours”.  It had no intention of meaning that when things are going wrong, they are really going wrong – but it has adopted that meaning.

 

 

Macaroon vs. Macaron

Macaroon vs. macaron.  Chunky coconut cookie vs. sophisticated French cookie.  These desserts strike me as so different it is hard to believe, but they actually share a common ancestor.  Both started out in Italy as flourless, unleavened cookies made from almond paste.  Then the evolution of the cookie split and took two simultaneous paths.  One path resulted in the substitution of shredded coconut for almond paste.  The other resulted in ground almond flour instead of almond paste.

The words both have their roots in ammaccare, which is Italian for “to crush”.  And if you think about it they aren’t so different from one another.  Both are meringue based and chewy deliciousness.

Gewürztraminer

What is with this name?!  If you have a hard time pronouncing it, think about the sentence “Girls are meaner.”  This helps you role this tongue twister out of your mouth a little more readily.  Gewurztraminer literally means “spice traminer”.  Traminer is a family of grape from Tramin, Italy (a German speaking providence). This Gewurztraminer is a more spicy and aromatic grape of this family.

Pig in a Poke

Buying a pig in a poke means purchasing something without thoroughly examining it.  The origin of this phrase came from the practice of selling dead dogs wrapped in a poke (old word for bag) instead of the expected pig.  The unlucky victim of the scheme would arrive home to find that the merchant did not indeed bag the pig but a mangy dog instead.  Letting the cat out of the bag refers to someone arriving home with what they think is a hare in a bag but is instead a cat.  The Spanish equivalent of that phrase is dar gato por liebre meaning to give a cat instead of a hare.

Side note: poke is derived from the French word poque. This is also the origin of our word pocket meaning a little bag.

The idea of buying a pig in a poke has made its way into most major languages in some derivation.  يشتري سمك في ماء  is Arabic for buying a fish in water (and not ending up with the one you wanted).  挂羊头卖狗肉 is Chinese for selling dog meat as mutton.  Acheter chat en poche is French for buying a cat in a sack.  The list of related idioms goes on and on.

To move on to a related but slightly different topic, in English and French canard means a hoax, but is also the French word for duck.  How did the word duck come to mean a hoax?  The French phrase vendre des canards à moitié means to half-sell ducks or to cheat.  Clearly, back in these times people often went to the market and were swindled and our language reflects that.

Pork Barrel

A politician can win a lot of votes by amassing money for local projects that his constituents care about.  Spending money gathered from a large swath of society on a project benefiting a smaller group is known as pork barrel spending.  What is a pork barrel and where did this term come to have political meaning?

Back before refrigerators, it was common to store pork in a brine solution in a barrel.  A wealthy family would have much more pork in that barrel and so it is a marker of affluence.  Pork barrel spending is a reference to slavery.  This sinister metaphor compares senators anxious to get the money for their constituents to slaves who would rush pork barrels dropped off by the slave owners.

Other languages have different ways for expressing this political tradition.  My favorite is from German which is “Kirchturmpolitik”  meaning “church tower politics”.  In other words, the politician is only concerned with what he can see from his village church tower.  

Continental Breakfast

When you are staying at a hotel you might be treated to a ‘continental breakfast’.  To me this sounds like a lot of sweet and not much substance.  I usually end up with some Frosted Flakes, an unripe banana, and some lousy hot tea.  I prefer a good slice of bread, some cheese, tomatoes and some eggs to start my day.

Why is a light breakfast called a continental breakfast?  Continental breakfast is an English term for a typical breakfast found on the main continent of Europe.  On the other hand, a more hearty breakfast is called an English breakfast since this would be a common breakfast in England.

Say Cheese!

How to get people to smile for a photo in different countries:

America – say cheese!

Japan – say cheese! (chiizu)

Egypt – say apple! (sib)

China – say eggplant! (qiezi)

Mexico – say whiskey!

Denmark – say orange! (appelsin)

Thailand – say Pepsi!

Germany – say spaghetti! or say cheesecake! (Kaesekuchen)

Hair of the Dog

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The Bloody Mary cocktail was once referred to as the Hair of the Dog and drunk as a hangover cure.  Why it is now called the Bloody Mary is unclear, but the phrase Hair of the Dog is an expression meaning to cure yourself with the very thing that you are afflicted with.  It references the old practice of rubbing the hair from a rabid animal in the bite wound as a (very unsuccessful) way to cure rabies. 

The practice of drinking alcohol as a cure for a hangover is as old as alcohol itself.In Polish they say “[to dislodge] a wedge [with] a wedge” – [wybijać] klin klinem. In Germany they have a ‘counter-beer’ (ein Konterbier trinken).  In Austria they have a repair beer (Reparatur-Seidl).

In Danish they have the expression “one must rise at the tree where they fell” in reference to this style of hangover cure. In Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria and Italy they say ‘a nail dislodges a nail’.

The real question though is, can you cure a hangover with alcohol?  Well, not exactly say the experts.  You may feel better at the moment, but you are probably just postponing the inevitable symptoms. 

Deviled Eggs

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You might have stuffed eggs or dressed eggs at a church function, but you probably won’t have deviled eggs. Deviled eggs seem inappropriate in the presence of God and so different monikers are used instead. But for the rest of us, why do we call it a deviled egg? Deviling means preparing something with heavy spices, such as mustard. So if you like deviled ham, deviled crab or deviled eggs, be not afraid, thou are not sinning, merely spicing. Although, be forewarned that the intended correlation between the spicy hot food and hell is undeniable and thou might have some explaining to do at the pearly gates.

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